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on March 5, 2015
I was first introduced to Into the Woods by a local high school drama production and I immediately became fascinated. I discovered a filmed Broadway version (in full, for free) on You Tube. It was wonderful. Bernadette Peters is fabulous. There is really none like her. I admit to being more than a little disappointed by the new film version and while I adore Meryl Streep she doesn't come close to Bernadette Peters. The power in her voice is incredible. The rest of the cast is simply wonderful and they pull off this quirky musical perfectly. I doubt I'm alone in saying that Agony (both versions) are my favourite songs in this, the princes are the perfect comedy relief, I actually wish there was a bit more of their rivalry in the play but it's a long one so I guess they can only do so much. This musical explores relationships between parents and children, couples, the desire for independence as children grow and their psychological and sexual maturity, loss as well as wish fulfillment. On the surface, this seems like silly twist on fairy tales but underneath is some pretty heavy subject matter and that's what drew me so strongly to this musical.

I saw a few negative reviews on here from people who had bought the album without ever seeing the production. I'm not sure that's wise and I'd strongly suggest seeking out the filmed version, you can buy it here on Amazon or watch it, in full, for free, on You Tube. I recommend it over the new Disney film because they changed the story around and the musical loses much of its impact because of that.

I mentioned Bernadette Peters but I must also mention Tony winner Joanna Gleason who is simply phenomenal as the Baker's Wife. Danielle Ferland is great as Little Red Riding Hood. The princes are played by Chuck Wagner and Robert Westenberg as Rapunzel and Cinderella's princes respectively with all the pomposity of princes who were raised to be nothing but charming. Westenberg also doubles as the Wolf. Chip Zien is the Baker, Ben Wright is Jack and Kim Crosby is Cinderella. Tom Aldredge is the narrator (and the strange man in the woods) and you will hear his voice throughout the musical as he guides the viewer through the story. Act 1 is fairly light hearted and humorous (if you discount Little Red Riding Hood and what happens to her, there's nothing funny about that). Act 2 is much darker. A lot of people don't care for Act 2. My feeling is that because Act 2 shines a light on the ugliness of human behaviour, because it is sad and full of loss, that people tend to be turned off by it. They want the happy endings that don't exist here. It absolutely doesn't fall flat, as some suggest, but it does take on a much darker tone as the characters struggle with the differences between right and wrong (and the most important notion, that one person's right is someone else's wrong) and loss, both loss of relationships but also loss through death as the lyric says, "Sometimes people leave us, halfway through the woods" (this part gets me crying every time). Most of my favourite songs are actually in Act 2, "Lament", "Last Midnight" and "No One Is Alone" along with humorous second version of "Agony".

I highly recommend this musical but approach it with an open mind as it's a little different from the other musicals out there. That is part of its charm if you're open to it.

Since I didn't see it listed on the product itself, here's a track listing:
1. Prologue: Into The Woods - Cast
2. Cinderella At The Grave - Kim Crosby, Merle Louise
3. Hello, Little Girl - Danielle Ferland, Robert Westenberg
4. I Guess This Is Goodbye / Maybe They're Magic - Joanna Gleason, Ben Wright, Chip Zien
5. I Know Things Now - Danielle Ferland
6. A Very Nice Prince / First Midnight / Giants In The Sky - Kim Crosby, Joanna Gleason, Ben Wright
7. Agony - Chuck Wagner, Robert Westenberg
8. It Takes Two - Joanna Gleason, Chip Zien
9. Stay With Me - Bernadette Peters, Pamela Winslow
10. On The Steps Of The Palace - Kim Crosby
11. Ever After - Tom Aldredge
12. Act 2. Prologue: So Happy - Tom Aldredge
13. Agony II - Chuck Wagner, Robert Westenberg
14. Lament - Bernadette Peters
15. Any Moment / Moments in the Woods - Joanna Gleason, Robert Westenberg
16. Your Fault / Last Midnight - Kim Crosby, Danielle Ferland, Bernadette Peters, Ben Wright, Chip Zien
17. No More - Tom Aldredge, Chip Zien
18. No One Is Alone - Kim Crosby, Danielle Ferland, Ben Wright, Chip Zien
19. Finale: Children Will Listen - Bernadette Peters
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on July 15, 2004
INTO THE WOODS is one of Stephen Sondheim's best musicals! INTO THE WOODS was the first musical that I ever saw (I was six) I caught the acting bug right then and there. Since that time, I've had the priviledge of acting in several productions written by Mr. Sondheim, including INTO THE WOODS.
INTO THE WOODS weaves together two of the most important things in musical theatre: a wonderful story and beautiful music that relates the story to the actor and audience alike. Bernadette Peters is wonderful in this production as the Witch. No other actress could capture the wickedness of the witch in the first act, but also the vulnerability that she feels after she realizes that she's all alone in the world after Rapunzel leaves. Even though this recording does not include the charming "Our Little World" (which was written for the show after this recording), it is still a wonderful showcase of Mr. Sondheim's masterful work. I recommend it for anyone who is a fan of musical theatre and wants to explore their inner child.
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on May 5, 2004
My children and I are such a fan of musicals as a genre but, "Into the Woods" has become hands-down a family favorite. Ms. Peters is outstanding as usual, but this is truly her best performance ever. This particular style displays her campy demeanor to its best while at the same time drawing from a poignant place within her soul in "Children Will Listen."
It's truly a show the whole family can enjoy. Children will enjoy the fairy tales woven throughout while adults are able to appreciate the nuances of humor which are abundant. It is definately a new twist to the fairy tales of old.
Joanna Gleason shines just as bright as Ms. Peters with her portrayal of the Baker's wife. Kim Crosby is wonderful as Cinderella. The rest of the cast gave stellar performances. The portrayal of Rapunzel was not quite in the same class as the rest of the cast, but was still good.
There are so many good moments within this cd: "Agony," "It Takes Two," "Moments in the Wood" and my personal favorite "Last Midnight."
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on January 30, 2004
Another splendid original cast recording from RCA Victor. This was one of their early digital recordings and the sound on the CD could not be bettered. As a bonus, a few short sections of the score that were cut from the show in previews have been restored for the recording.
The whole cast here is as perfect as one could wish for. Joanna Gleason won the Tony for Best Actress, deservedly so. No one has ever sung "Moments in the Woods" as well. Bernadette is wonderful as the Witch...the only recorded Witch to show all the character's colors! Kim Crosby is a fine Cinderella navigating her way through the thicket of lyrics in "On the Steps of the Palace."
Sondheim's lyrics are both playful and thoughtful. (A personal favorite quote: "Oh if life were only moments/Even Now and Then a bad one/But if life were only moments/Then you'd never know you'd had one!") As always much more to think about than your average musical...and therefore the disc stands up to repeated listenings.
The music too, is sometimes simple and lovely ("Children will Listen"; "No One is alone"); sometimes richly dramatic ("Last Midnight", "Lament") and occasionally too clever for its own good ("I know Things Now", "It Takes Two") but always in perfect keeping with the characters and the story. There is a good reason why this score won the 1988 Tony award over Lloyd Webber's PHANTOM OF THE OPERA!
PHANTOM has some lovely melodies, but many dull and boring passages, and the lyrics might as well have came out of an aeresol can! A good Broadway score combines music and lyrics effectively to tell a story ... and that is what the score of INTO THE WOODS does.
There is a video available on VHS and DVD that preserves the original cast in an enjoyable, though somewhat over-the-top performance. The video was taped in the theatre near the end of the show's two year run, while this original cast album was made just 4 days after the show's triumphant premiere. Enjoy both!
Avoid the awful London cast...the cover art is the best thing about that recording. The 2002 revival cast was enjoyable on stage, but the recording fails to capture the fun. Why settle for second best? Stick with the perfect original cast!
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on August 21, 2003
What am I right about? Well, how fabulous INTO THE WOODS is, for one thing. I adore INTO THE WOODS. I'll just be honest here on this one. I don't really have anything critcal to say about it. I fell in love with the score the moment I heard it for the first time.
This is one of Sondheim's most accessable musicals: not as harmonically challenging as SUNDAY IN THE PARK... or as attention-to-detail-demanding as the lyrics in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. The music is gloriously lush and memorable, these are Sondhiem's most hummable tunes. The plot and characters are funny and endearing.
Basically, this is a massive fairy-tale-for-grown-ups: all your favorite fairy tale characters spend Act I making wishes, getting "through the woods", and basically following the fairly familiar plots your remember from your childhood. Act II is darker as we find out what happens AFTER ever after! Cinderella realizes that maybe life with a prince wasn't what she was wising for after all, Jack (of beanstalk fame) gets a little greedy, Little Red Riding Hood's mom dies and Prince Charming gets a little fickle.
I can't tell you how much this show will win its way into your heart. Its message, which it delivers in the fable-like way of all fairy stories, brings these imaginary characters troubles surprisingly close to home. You will see how wittily Lapine and Sondheim have reminded us to be "careful the wish you make...the spell you cast."
Anyway, this is truly the only version of this show you'll ever want: they got it right the first time, people! First of all, you have the truly showstopping performance of Joanna Gleason as the Baker's Wife and the wonderful Bernadette Peters as the Witch! What more do you want? The whole cast is perfect... Particularly memorable are the Princes and Little Red.
The whole score is nicely organized on one CD (not the spoken dialogue, just the sung bits...which is most of the show anyway). Also included is what is misleadingly called the full libretto, although NONE of the spoken dialogue is included. You can follow along perfectly with the CD however. Some nice photos are included too. For the true entire experience of this original cast's amazing production you should get the video or DVD... the show was filmed for TV! It's wonderfully filmed and if you aren't a DVD fantic, save your money and go VHS; there are NO extras on the DVD at all.
"I wish!"
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Into The Woods is a fine, entertaining show, but I have a feeling after Sondheim has been gone for 100 years this will not be considered one of his classics. Largely that's because he has set the bar so high for himself, but also because the second act is, let's admit it, just flat.
The show came out in 1987, at height of the Ronald Reagan "feel good about everything" era, and I can't help but think that its dim view of "middle class morality" is largely influenced by these times. For traditional fairy tales, they sure have a very contemporary feel, in other words. The motives of the characters are blatantly selfish and usually materialistic, even while they rationalize their actions to have a higher purpose. A lot like the 80s...and today for that matter.
But while the first act is largely brilliant, in the second I get the feeling both Sondheim and Lapine didn't know where to go. There are several terrific numbers, but the intricate plot unravels and slows to a crawl, with an ending that's surprisingly soppy and sentimental for Sondheim.
The music is not top-drawer Sondheim. It ranges from very good ("Giants In The Sky," "On The Steps Of The Palace," "No More") to fair ("Last Midnight," "Your Fault") to less-than-inspired ("I Know Things Now," "No One Is Alone"). Unfortunately, the not-as-great songs tend to come more towards the end, which adds to the feeling that the musical runs out of steam somewhere in Act II. The casting is mostly good, though Chip Zien is whiny and grating. (Yes, I know he's supposed to be, but he does it all too well.) Finally, something rings false about the ending. After setting these people up as largely self-interested and shallow, it's hard to have feelings for them at the end, and I must confess I feel a lot of sympathy for the giant! (Well, both giants.) I find the book morally-muddied, and am not sure in the end what Sondheim and Lapine are trying to say with their resolution. Yes, I agree you should teach your children well, to borrow another lyric, but the people in this show never seem to really change. Or I'm not convinced, anyway.
Still, most Broadway musicals don't even tackle issues this deeply, so there's more food for thought here than in most shows of this type. Still, I feel, especially in act two, they could have done a better job.
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on September 26, 2002
This post-modern collage of fairy-tale snippets will not be to everyone's liking. Moral ambiguities are not acceptable to so many people who want to be told how to think, what to feel, etc. This show reminds us that our decisions and actions affect others-- we are, indeed, not alone-- for better or worse. Happily, this rather deep message is spun into a darkly merry confection with a superb Stephen Sondheim score. Hummable? With repeated listenings, sure. Beautiful? Absolutely.
The 1987 original cast cannot be improved upon. Bernadette Peters, who had dazzled audiences for years with her erotic take on Sondheim's "Broadway Baby", was the ideal Witch, and her unique singing shines through. Chip Zien and Robert Westenberg are other standouts in a uniformly great cast. Joanna Gleason, however, is the true revelation. The part of the Baker's Wife is rich: steel-willed wife, happy mother, girlish lover; and Gleason nails it wonderfully on stage and in this recording. (Compare it to her unforgettable cameo as Mark Wahlberg's bitter, rage-filled shrew of a mother in "Boogie Nights".) Her singing is quite dazzling, running up and down the scale between contralto and mezzo-soprano effortlessly. She should record more than she does; her warm voice could make for a lovely album of Jerome Kern or even Sondheim ballads. Who knew she was Monty Hall's daughter...?
For those Andrew Lloyd Webber fans who disparage Sondheim, I say: Fine, stay with Sir Andrew. If you like your warmed-over imitation Puccini so much, enjoy it. For those who like their musical theatre with more originality, more bite, and more melody, Sondheim is the true heir to Kern, Gershwin, Rodgers and Porter, and "Into the Woods" true theatrical magic.
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on July 11, 2002
I recently saw a local high school production of INTO THE WOODS, and it was far from impressive. However, despite the fact that the production itself was lackluster, I immediately became aware of how powerful the musical itself really was. That just goes to show how fascinating INTO THE WOODS is--I immediately had to buy the soundtrack because I couldn't get the songs out of my head.
The show features a variety of familiar characters from fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack from "Jack and the Beanstalk") and throws them together as they wander through a dark, twisted forest, crossing paths as each tries desperately to get what he or she wishes for. At the end of Act 1, everyone has gotten his or her wish and assumes that they will live happily ever after...but in Act 2, they find that their happiness is fleeting and their dreams begin collapsing around them.
This is a musical that truly plays up all of the fear, complexities, and innuendoes of classic fairy tales. Sondheim gives us the real, unexpurgated versions of the stories we know from childhood, reminding us of their startling violence and sexual themes. The musical deals with adultery, revenge, and sexual awakening. This is very much a DARK show, and while it does have plenty of humor, that's dark, too.
The music itself is simply sublime, the lyrics simple yet put together to create amazingly complex harmonies and counterpoints. The title number is merry yet slightly menacing. "Agony," sung by two lustful princes, is a haunting duet. "Last Midnight" provides Bernadette Peters with her moment to shine as the Witch, who goes from gruesome to glamorous (her other memorable moment, however, is her very clever "rap" number early in the show). The baker's wife, played by Joanna Gleason, performs an emotional "Moments in the Woods," in which she contemplates a spur-of-the-moment affair. And the finale, which consists of the beautiful "Children will Listen" followed by a reprise of the title song, is the perfect ending to the show.
This recording is, quite simply, the best available. Every member of the cast is strong and there isn't a single thing that can be complained about.
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on February 1, 2002
INTO THE WOODS is one of Stephen Sondheim's most beloved shows, but even more credit should go to book writer / director James Lapine. College courses across the nation study this intricate, entertaining, and thought-provoking musical. The book is at turns humorous and challenging.
Lapine cleverly combines four of the Grimm brothers' most famous fairy tales, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Little Red Ridinghood, and couples them with his own fairy tale about a childless Baker and his Wife. On one level, the show is simple enough. Act I introduces the characters and charmingly chronicles their well-known adventures of fulfilling their wishes on the way to "happily ever after." In Act II, the community faces a frightening new problem, one in which neither the characters nor we know how the story will end.
But on another level, we slowly come to realize that the these characters' celebrated virtues can also be considered major flaws. Jack is a thief. Cinderella runs away instead of telling the truth. Rapunzel cannot cope in civilization after years of virginal isolation. Beauty is not the same thing as power. Those who fall in love at first sight may have wandering eyes....
Lapine and Sondheim's message is best summed up in Cinderella's lullaby to Red Ridinghood, "No One Is Alone." Every action we take has a consequence to others. Right and wrong, black and white, good and evil, give way to half-truths, shades of gray, and ambiguity. Only in hindsight can we evaluate if the ends justify the means by which we pursue our dreams. We must remember that our values and our stories will have a lasting impact on our children.
Lapine has brought together a wonderfully talented cast, including Bernadette Peters, Chip Zien, Kim Crosby, Ben Wright, and Danielle Ferland. They have great comedic abilities to enhance the plethora of witty moments in the script, and most have good singing voices. The standout performance, however, is by Joanna Gleason as the Baker's Wife, humorous yet serious, conniving yet sincere, strong yet fragile.
Sondheim's score is filled with songs perfectly crafted to propel the storyline forward, most notably the lengthy opening sequence. Other great moments include "It Takes Two," the "Agony" reprise, "Moments in the Woods," "Last Midnight," and "No One Is Alone." However, more than most shows, these songs lose some of their punch outside the context of the plot. Therefore, I recommend purchasing the video. Once you've seen the show, you'll get more enjoyment out of listening to the CD, if you still wish to purchase it.
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on January 9, 2002
Years before 'Shrek', Stephen Sondheim raided familiar fairy-tale lore and jumbled beloved characters - Cinderella, , Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack of Beanstalk fame, a Wicked Witch, amongst others - into the same, semi-ironic story. In a manner akin to 'The Princess Bride', the old stories are told with a modern consciousness, and when these musty archetypes begin to think and dream and desire like we do, chaos is likely.
The first act treats the fairy tale as Perrault might have known it - quests as metaphors for puberty, socialisation, marriage, family, fertility etc. And all ends happily ever after, with the woods as a space in which the journey from childhood to adulthood, from indiviualism to the social order is negotiated - Riding Hood's 'I Know Things Now' being eloquent of the psychic journeys being undertaken throughout (although the sexual iconoclasm of Angela Carter's 'The Bloody Chamber' is avoided).
What sufficed for the hierarchies of Perrault's time, however, will not necessarily do for us, and Act 2 extends the notion of the woods into the Shakespearean sense, where more complex ideas about identity, gender, social roles and sexuality are played out. The conclusions here are much more fraught and provisional, less tidily closed off.
Unfortunately, the musical here begins to get less interesting. It's hard to top the amazing prologue, in which all the characters and their leitmotifs are introduced with bustling bravado. the music throughout is as supple and subtle as extended recitif, underlying or commenting on the action, full of witty colour and unexpected lyricism. The words are pure pleasure, humorously mocking our expectations of fairy tale characters, yet richly true to their inner lives. Without ever descending into mere verbal pyrotechnics, Sondheim's vocabulary opens up a light, flexible space for the characters, ideas and spectators to move around in. The tone, even in the more sombre sequences is generally comic and deflating (the book itself, judging by the booklet's synopsis, seems much darker). By the middle of Act Two, however, the comedy has given way to extended moral homilies full of earnest sentiments and dull music. And, maybe it's just me, but this slick, over-articulate style of Broadway singing is not to my taste.
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